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Origins 2012 Report

posted Jun 6, 2012, 7:10 AM by S Harsch   [ updated Jun 8, 2012, 1:25 PM by Shane Harsch ]
Origins was a blast. It is ironic that this con season I actually carefully planned my schedule so that I wouldn't go as overboard as I often do, and try to run fewer events. I think I kind of succeeded in that I only had 2 "new" events (i.e. that I had to create from scratch), which is an improvement, but the scale of both of them was such that I'm not sure I accomplished my actual goal of "taking it easy".

In the end, I ran 8 events at 37 hours total. And Imma doit agin at GenCon.

Anyway, all of my events ran well. Champions Quick Start had some repeat offenders who wanted to learn some more about HERO, and we had a very energetic danger room exercise.

Half-Life 3: Escape from City 17 also went over very well. Some very creative approaches to the challenges at hand, and lots of fun all around.

I ran two Fantasy Hero Quick Starts which were full and extremely fun. I am very satisfied with how well that material works. The second session was also attended by the guys from the Virtual Play podcast. They have already posted their Origins report. The Fantasy Hero Quick Start Excerpt starts at 21:45. The rest of the podcast covers my games, as they also played in the Narosia game. The review is very positive and they grab on to what I was hoping to achieve in FHQS.

The Narosia game is covered at 38:00. Overall, Mel (the podcaster) had a great time, and is very much looking forward to Legendsmiths work on Narosia. He made some observations about the session, which I challenged in the comments, and he clarified that ultimately he is not fond of dungeon crawls in general, and that really was the sum of his criticism. I am always challenged as to how to present the world of Narosia and for many players the structure of a dungeon crawl resonates well. Fundamentally, that classic aspect of fantasy gaming comprises one of the most fundamental elements of Narosia, that Endroren (the "evil" god) is chained to the center of the world, drawing his strongest minions closest to him, and that all of the dark hordes are imprisoned in Deepland Halls of what once was the Tsvergic Kingdom. This creates a metagame element that: architected underground complexes belong in the story, that tougher monsters are to be found the deeper you go, and that entrances to these halls is rare and dangerous. 

That does leave an awful lot of the rest of the world for evils that aren't of the Endrori, Voidspwan, and the exploration of fallen empires. My takeaway from the report is that the structured combat is probably best part of a Quick Start, and that something more elegant, yet action packed, that really highlights the complexity and wonder of Narosia is likely a better showcase for the world than the dungeon crawl. Narosia is structured to enhance any adventure in ways that gives it greater significance, by virtue of gods or otherwise, but as good as The Gates of Dor Pelithor is as a dungeon adventure, I can think of many others (Darkgate, A Hard Rain, A Wizard's Errand, Revenge is a Dish..., For King and Queen, and Drakwold Forest) that are likely a better showcase. 

A huge thanks to the VirtualPlay guys for their participation and insight. 

With "Cowboy Cthulhu: The Winter of '86" I really challenged myself in a number of ways. First, I created (well, discovered actually) more backstory and relationships between characters than I have for any other adventure, and it clearly paid off. Second, I wanted to run this even without using a battlemap of any kind. As many of you know, I typically run with detailed battlemaps using MapTool. This helps me prep, and helps the game move quickly for complicated battles. However, for Cowboy Cthulhu I feel the computer would have negatively impacted the atmosphere and the story, so I ran without a map at all. I am also a big Cthulhu fan, but I am not a fan of Chaosium's RPG (the rules, not the content - the content is fabulous). I have discovered Reality Bites' Realms of Cthulhu, which looks like a great Savage Worlds instance of Cthulhu, but I also know that I am a HERO fan. HERO is one of those games that once you know it, you can play it hard and you can play it soft, and when you play it soft (i.e. more rules light) you still have the whole system there when you need it. That's how I approached Cowboy Cthulhu. The one thing missing are Sanity Rules, so I needed to make them, and I wanted to do so in a way that was both appropriately HERO and appropriate for Cthulhu. Based on this first round of feedback, I would say it is a definite success. I have some tweaks to document that I made on the fly but the rules as experienced by the players were solid. The story was fantastic in that the players ability to render their character unto the canvas I laid before them was amazing. I do believe the plot, the story elements, and the pacing were handled well by me, and that it is one of the best events I have facilitated, but that would mean nothing if it were not for the amazing performances, and I mean that in every way, of the players. I hope I get a group of players as gifted in GenCon as I did at Origins, because this is now one of my favorite events. The right level of frustration, mystery, despair, all reinforced by the rules (Sanity and otherwise) helped set the stage for the players to bring their characters to life. It was awesome to see. 

That brings me to Skyrim. This was a major press for me, since one of my goals was to adapt HERO System to Skyrim, which is different than what I have done in the past with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Fallout. I wanted Skyrim players to pick up a character sheet and have a strong understanding of what their character was. I am happy to report that I was successful. As I expected, both events (I ran it twice) were over capacity: 5 tickets/5 slots sold out, both events ran with 6 players, and I had 2-3 extra players with generics show up in addition. If you intend to be a lucky generic at GenCon, get there early. 

Success. Without qualification. The HERO system, even when lurking in the background, provides a solid foundation that even when streamlined in its presentation to appear "Skyrim-y" it's still there when you need it. Whether it was the Dovahkiin performing a Whirlwind Sprint Move Through on an Ice Troll, or Lydia executing a Block maneuver so the party could coordinate their attacks on a dragon, the epic nature of HERO System combat came through strong. Most of the players had never played the HERO System before, and with this approach I actually had very little to explain about the system... we just started playing immediately. The action was epic, the pacing was good, and the second time through I think the story was at least on par with most of the sidequests in Skyrim (I'll work up to something epic, I assure you). Oh, and the general consensus at the end of both games was that Riften needs to be "dealt with". I guess next season it will be time for the Dovahkiin to head down to Riften and impose some order....

The changes I made for Skyrim were a topic of discussion with other HERO GMs. I respect the opinion that changing or hiding the system is antithetical to advocating the system, and that if we want more people to play HERO shouldn't they know they are playing HERO. However, my view on that is the reality of the modern world is that most of what is sold by a company is not made by that company. Apple does not make iPads... FoxConn does. Ford does not make cars, it designs and assembles them from parts provided by companies all over the world. You trust in those brands to make the right choices to deliver the experience you want, is it really an issue whether the headlights are made in Korea or Brazil? To be clear, HERO in these analogies is the supplier, while I am the one to assemble the experience for the players. In some cases, the supplier is visible (much like the car example), in others the supplier is not (like the iPad example). This does not diminish the value of the supplier, in many ways it enhances the value of the supplier since they only need to market to the assemblers and not to the world, whereas a company like Apple or Ford has to have a much larger marketing budget. 

Anyway, enough economic theory. As for the rest of the con, I can't really say. I got 1 hour in the dealers' hall on Sunday right before close and that was it. Picked up some fun stuff, but didn't go crazy and I didn't get to wander the con like I usually do. Thankfully, all the hard work leading up to this con means that at GenCon I will be able to wander.

See you in August!